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October 12, 2017

Review: Planet Grim by Alex Behr

by MK French

This is a collection of twenty-eight short stories, and Alex Behr's writing style is fairly eclectic. This gives some of the stories an unfinished feel as if there's no real purpose to the story other than to listen to the narrator speak. We're getting snapshots of uncomfortable moments in unpleasant people's lives, which feels very unsettling while reading. There's a distance between the reader and the characters, even if we're shown their intimate thoughts and actions. Characters are sometimes never named or are framed in odd terms.

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Planet Grim
October 2017; 7.13 Books; 978-0998409221
ebook, print (222 pages); literary, anthology
In "Wet," the unnamed narrator refers to her son as "the son" several times, and it's a disjointed retelling of the odds and ends left of her life after a divorce. "Teenage Riot" reads like diary entries, but there are no dates and no clear theme; the ending line of "I want something to love" is probably the closest thing that could tie it all together.

"Fairyland" is more like a traditional story that we're used to. Conversation flows, we see the world from Cookie's point of view and drawn into the hopes she has to make a friend and see Theresa as her sister. The events in the story itself are random, as life can be, with no clear resolution at the end, it does actually feel complete. "Some Weird Sin" feels like it's the start of a story, yet got cut off at the end; perhaps because the narrator is named Joe, and we belatedly find out that the nameless narrator in the previous story had a fake ID with the name Joe. Or perhaps that's just me. The fragmented sentences are less prominent in this story, and Joe is hopelessly lost: he's divorcing, he can't connect with his son, and his thoughts linger over the past as if it could save him.

"The Garden" is another story that feels less disjointed and more like a complete story, even if the ending is abrupt. It doesn't matter that we don't find out the narrator's name until halfway through the story because we learn enough about her character by how she interacts with others and sees them. The numb pain that she has at the end is echoed in the language used, so Behr's writing fits both the theme and the tone here.

"A Reasonable Person" is painful to read in contrast because we're deep in Mary's thoughts, and she is so very anxious. Everything makes her nervous, she doubts herself completely, and the distance she has from others is based out of fear. The choppy style that Behr used in other stories wouldn't fit here, and instead, the rhythm of Mary's doubts evoke that feel without the actual disjointedness.

"The Desperate Ones" starts off with an unpleasant high narrator, and then kind of slides into a freeform poetic sadness and desperation. I'm not sure it really works as an entire story because it seems more like a snapshot in time than anything progressing from a start to a finish. In contrast, "Zài Jiàn" is also a snapshot in time but carries more weight to it and feels a little more complete. Maybe because we get a bit of Hazel's history or her thoughts, or because there's a little more substance to the story than a sentence repeated for the ending.

There is some continuity, in that the Cookie of "Fallen Nest" is indeed the same Cookie of "Fairyland." There are some elements in it that echo earlier fragmented short stories, which made me wonder if these short stories were all meant to be interconnected, or were the fragments of a novel that didn't quite fit together.

These stories all have the theme of emotional disconnect from others, and sometimes the characters are even disconnected from themselves. Most of the time, I found it extremely difficult to like the stories and had to stop myself from skimming through them. The advertising blurb says that the stories "draw blood while making you laugh," but I couldn't laugh. They certainly draw blood, but I felt sorry for these characters, not pleased to be reading about their miseries.

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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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